Sinking as band plays on

FAN'S EYE VIEW no.106: Leicester City
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The Independent Online
The imposing steel and concrete cathedral of the Carling Stand, a fitting adornment to Old Trafford or to Highbury, towers to an impossible height opposite the old East Stand, which would probably be regarded as something of a temporary measure by the supporters of Kettering Town.

Filbert Street these days is like the team that lives there - a hybrid, not sure of place and purpose. There is a hunger here, and only Manchester United and Newcastle this season have filled their stadiums nearer to capacity week on week. Yet while the spirit is willing, the League table offers only proof that our holiday among the lite has been strictly on a stowaway basis. There has been no invitation to dine at the captain's table, and when the Premiership cruise liner reaches port in May, we will be unceremoniously dumped ashore with only our hand baggage, Mark Draper having been confiscated, to fend for ourselves. Bye bye, Alan Hansen, hello again, Jimmy Greaves.

Despite this, it somehow feels like a good time to be a Leicester City fan. The Brian Little affair framed and defined our season: we were defiant, impotent, jilted. Only now can we look back at the relationship and admit some home truths. We were never really in love, just dependent success junkies, our brains fried by the mind-numbing teams of the 1980s, desperate to be shown a good time. We closed our eyes to the awkward tell-tale signs: the fact that Brian's staff so ominously resembled an Aston Villa government- in-exile; the fact that a manager whose public verbal utterances began and ended with "Mah job...(pause) is to win football matches for this football club" was hard to warm to as a human being; the fact that the team which improbably scraped through the play-offs in May were ultimately neither pleasing to the eye nor particularly effective.

Now we have Mark McGhee, and the signs are that we may settle down together and raise a family. McGhee isn't an android. And he says things like "Non- League teams shouldn't be allowed in the FA Cup" and, memorably, "If we win nine out of the last 15 we'll stay up", but mainly he talks sense, and his heart is in the right place. He produced a miracle from slender resources at Reading, and given time we believe that he will deliver us a side which neutrals will want to watch.

On his arrival, he displayed an immediate instinctive understanding of the Leicester City fan's priorities in life. These are (a) to remain broadly on course for winning the European Cup in the year 2009, thanks to a hat- trick in the final by the prodigious teenage superstar, George Lineker, and (b) more importantly, to put one over on Nottingham Forest by any means possible, fair or foul. Accordingly, his first act as manager was to pick up the phone to Doncaster Rovers and sign our new cult hero, the winger, Jamie Lawrence. As he ran out for his first appearance, children stared wide-eyed with wonder, grown men wept openly in the stands, the Blue Army's hearts swelled with pride. Forest might still have a better team than us, but we have robbed them of this distinction at least: no longer can even their most committed supporter claim that Jason Lee has the oddest hair in the Premiership.

Traditional fan mythology holds that Filbert Street crowds demand purist football. This isn't always the case: given the choice, the Kop would pick Tony Sibson and Hannibal Lecter as ball-winners rather than Baresi and Maldini. We've learnt this season, though, that only teams who can keep the ball can live in the Premiership, and that is no bad thing to learn. Maybe a team which can tease defenders out of position by passing the ball around will be a team which can create openings for the explosive talents of Julian Joachim. And maybe Richard Rogers will design us a new East Stand, a bravura post-modern fantasy defying all previous conceptions of visual logic by subtly weaving the other three sides of the ground into a harmonious and coherent whole, thereby drawing gasps of admiration from the architectural community and obliging the City Council, through sheer aesthetic force majeure, to turn a blind eye to the mysterious disappearance of Burnmoor Street. Tomorrow, after all, is another day.

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